Is Vietnam the next TNE destination for UK universities?

Compared to other countries in Asia, such as China, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Singapore, which represent a rather saturated market for United Kingdom transnational education (TNE), Vietnam represents a growing opportunity for the UK due to its increasing GDP and limited local education provision.

This year the UK and Vietnam celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations. The celebrations have further advanced ongoing dialogue and collaborations on international education between the two countries, including issues around student mobility, transnational education and joint research projects.

The 2022 International Education Strategy of the UK identifies Vietnam as a strategic growth area. Will this make Vietnam the next TNE destination for UK universities?

The geopolitical environment

According to the World Bank, Vietnam’s shift from a centrally-planned economy to a market or mixed economy has transformed the country from one of the poorest in the world into a lower middle-income country. Vietnam is now one of the most dynamic emerging countries in the East Asia region.

Between 2002 and 2021, GDP per capita increased 3.6 times, reaching almost US$3,700. According to a forecast by PricewaterhouseCoopers in February 2017, Vietnam might have been the fastest-growing of the world’s economies, with a potential annual GDP growth rate of about 5.1%, which would make its economy the 10th-largest in the world by 2050.

According to DBS Bank in 2019, Vietnam’s economy had the potential to grow at a pace of about 6%-6.5% by 2029. It was suggested that Vietnam could overpower Singapore’s economy by the next decade because of its strong foreign investment in-flow and productivity growth. However, Vietnam surpassed Singapore just a year later.

Over the past 30 years, in addition to joining the World Trade Organisation and signing a free trade agreement with the US, Vietnam has signed numerous trade agreements with different partners, which has seen it become one of the main manufacturing hubs in the world as it seeks to benefit from the fact that its labour costs are lower than China.

It is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Free Trade Area with China, India, Japan and Korea and a member of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area and is a signatory to the European Union/Chile/Korea/Japan-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement. It also benefits from its proximity to China.

Increasing competition between China and the US has aided its recent economic growth, such as the shift of Apple’s manufacturing business and that of Google’s Pixel Phones, Microsoft’s Xbox and others. Other Western countries have also relocated their manufacturing business to Vietnam.

Currently, both Beijing and Washington invest heavily, economically and militarily, in Vietnam due to Sino-US tension. This could indicate a similar economic development path to that of China over two decades ago. Internationalising higher education will be crucial for the economic growth of Vietnam so that it can train the talent it needs to take advantage of all of these developments.

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